While we relax in the sunshine around the world, life is far from paradise for the waiters, cleaners, cooks, porters, drivers, receptionists and other staff working to make our holidays enjoyable.
Tourism is the world’s biggest industry, employing an estimated 220 million people worldwide. It is an industry that is highly competitive and dominated by large western operators and companies. However, working conditions are notoriously exploitative. Lack of proper contracts, poverty wages, long hours are commonplace. In 2002 Tourism Concern won EU funding to research labour conditions in international tourism, in partnership with trade unions and NGOs. We uncovered abusive labour conditions in every destination and, shockingly, in hotels that were included in the holiday of the brochures of the four major tour operators in the UK. These conditions kept workers in poverty and violated the labour standards laid out in national and international legislation.
Tourism Concern campaigned for tour operators to recognise and act on their responsibility to ensure compliance with labour standards laid out in national and international legislation. Tourism workers in destinations are often employed by local companies rather than by foreign tour operators. As tour operators are employing these local companies to provide our holidays, they have a clear responsibility to ensure adherence to international human rights standards. We argued that it is unacceptable for tour operators to profit from illegal and exploitative practices, while refusing to acknowledge their legal and ethical responsibilities.
We conducted research into working conditions for tourism employees in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Egypt. This formed the basis of our campaign report, ‘Labour Standards, Social Responsibility and Tourism’.
We produced a short campaign film to raise public awareness of the issue.
Public campaigning prompted thousands of people to take part in our Sun, Sand, Sea and Sweatshops postcard campaign, urging the industry to help end sweatshop holiday labour.
As a result of our campaign, all the UK’s leading tour operators adopted policies on labour conditions for hotels included in their holiday packages.